Sharon Oster is professor of English at the University of Redlands. She received her Ph.D. in English and M.A. degrees in English and Comparative Literature at UCLA, and a B.A. in English at the University of Michigan. Before joining the U of R faculty, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Irvine, and a Visiting Lecturer at UCLA. She is a former and recent fellow of the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies (at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.).
As a fellow at the Mandel Center, Oster researched oral and written Holocaust testimonies and strategies in Holocaust pedagogy; she piloted the Mandel Center’s new digital teaching resource, “Experiencing History"; and, in June 2017, participated in a research workshop, “Photography of Atrocity.” Professor Oster’s work on rhetorical figures of Jewishness, written by and about Jews in a variety of contexts, engages her broad interests in literary realism, the novel, religious aesthetics, and American Jewish and Holocaust literature generally.
Professor Oster’s first book project, No Place in Time: The Hebraic Myth in American Literature, traces the prevalence of the “Hebraic myth” in nineteenth-century poetry, fiction and journalism. This “philosemitic” trope of the noble biblical “Hebrew” has long buttressed Protestant providential narratives as a metaphor for the pre-Christian past, according to Protestant typology. The Hebraic myth, however, renders the Jew an anachronistic, atavistic throwback, an expressly un-modern figure. Confronting the modern “Jew” as part of a social, national “Jewish Problem,” a figure of religious or “racial” difference often subject to racist stereotypes, realist writers like Henry James, Edith Wharton, Abraham Cahan, Anzia Yezierska and others struggled to write the “Jew” in time. She argues that an understanding of the Jewish place in American literature is incomplete without an account of how, facing the upheavals of modernity, these writers reconfigured a philosemitic myth that imagined Jews outside of time by figuratively placing them in it, as guarantors of a promising American future.
Professor Oster’s current project centers on the literary and visual figure of the “Muselmann” in Holocaust memoirs. She challenges the widespread scholarly assumption that the term “Muselmann,” ubiquitous in Holocaust survivor accounts, denotes a fixed, silent, concentration camp “type” of prisoner who, nearest to death, was fated to die. Based on evidence from a range of oral testimonies and firsthand accounts, Oster shows instead that “Muselmannhood” was for some a temporary condition, those who claimed to have been Muselmänner yet survived. Given this more fluid sense of the term, she contends that Muselmänner were similar to other prisoners in kind, differing rather in degree along a broad continuum of deprivation, starvation, and proximity to death. In literature by Charlotte Delbo, Elie Wiesel, Ruth Klüger and others, the Muselmann comes to resemble other “death-in-life” figures for survivors’ own experience, their “Auschwitz doubles.” Professor Oster is also exploring women’s Holocaust narratives to see the extent to which the fluidity of this term applies to narratives of women’s concentration camp experiences.
Professor Oster also engages ongoing work in the Digital Humanities. With support from the USHMM Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies and the University of Redlands Center for Spatial Studies, she has developed an interdisciplinary GIS mapping project, “Cartographies of Suffering: Mapping Holocaust Accounts,” that teaches students to create digital layered ESRI Storymaps, to explore and map individual Holocaust survivor accounts on a collective geographical scale.
Ph.D. 2003, English, University of California, Los Angeles
M.A. 1999, English, University of California, Los Angeles
M.A. 1998, Comparative Literature, University of California, Los Angeles
B.A. 1991, English, University of Michigan
MLA Forum Executive Committee in Languages, Literatures, and Cultures: Jewish American, 2017-2022.
Book Manuscript Reviewer, Northwestern University Press, 2015-present; Journal Manuscript Reviewer, Contemporary Literature, 2013-present; Literature Compass, Blackwell Publishing, 2009-present.
Member, Southern California Americanist Group (SCAG), San Marino, CA (2004-); co-Convener (2007-2010).
Chair, Department of English, U of R (July 2013-July 2016); Faculty Advisor, Hillel, U of R (2006-); Humanities Advisory Board, U of R (2015); Grievance Committee, U of R (2014-15); First Year Experience (General Education revision) Task Force, U of R (2013-14); Co-Advisor, Sigma Tau Delta, English Honor Society, U of R (2010-11); Personnel Policies Committee, U of R (2007-09); Co-Chair (2008-09); Dean’s Advisory Board, U of R (2007-09); Steering Committee, U of R (2008-09); Nominating Committee, U of R (2008-09).
Visiting Lecturer in English, University of California, Los Angeles, 2004-05; Adjunct Instructor, English, University of Southern California, Fall 2004.
American Jewish Literature
Representing the Holocaust: Reading, Writing, Mapping
History of Literacy Criticism and Theory
Autobiography and Graphic Narrative
Literature of the Americas
Coming of Age in the Gilded Age
Reading the 1960s
“No Place in Time: The Hebraic Myth in American Literature,” manuscript under review.
Articles, Book Chapters, Review Essays
“The Muselmann Liberated: Impossible Metaphors in Holocaust Literature and Photography,” Lessons and Legacies XIII. Eds. Simone Gigliotti and Tim Cole, Northwestern UP, forthcoming November 2019.
“Impossible Metaphors of Holocaust Representation: The Muselmann,” Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, Volume 34, Issue 3 (Fall 2014): 302-48.
“The Pupil,” “Anti-Semitism,” “The Dreyfus Affair,” in Critical Companion to Henry James: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Eds. Kendall Johnson and Eric Haralson. Clearmark Books, Facts on File (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009).
“The Shop of Curiosities: Henry James, ‘the Jew,’ and the Production of Value.” English Literary History 75.4 (Winter 2008): 963-992.
Book review: American Naturalism and the Jews, by Donald Pizer (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2008), American Jewish History 94.4 (Winter 2009).
“‘The Erotics of Auschwitz': Coming of Age in The Painted Bird and Sophie's Choice.” In Witnessing the Disaster: Essays on Representation and the Holocaust. Eds. Michael Bernard-Donals and Richard Glejzer (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003).
“A Figure Out of Time: The “Hebraic Myth” and Christian Typology,” SCAG, Southern California Americanist Group, The Huntington Library, June 2, 2017.
“The Melting Pot and Progressive Reform: Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska and the Jewish American Future,” Western Jewish Studies Association, Claremont, CA, March 26-27, 2017.
“Impossible Holocaust Metaphors: The Muselmann,” Panel Author and Presenter, MLA, Philadelphia, PA, Jan. 5-8, 2017.
“Impossible Holocaust Metaphors: The Muselmann,” Lessons and Legacies XIV, Bi-Annual Conference of the Holocaust Education Foundation, Claremont, CA, Nov. 3-6, 2016.
“The Melting Pot and Progressive Reform: Anzia Yezierska and the Jewish American Future,” ALA Symposium, The American Short Story: An Expansion of the Genre, Savannah, GA, Oct. 20-22, 2016.
Roundtable Chair: “Making Our Way in the World Today: Early-Career Scholars, Community, Publicity,” MLA Annual Convention, Austin, Texas, January 9, 2016.
Invited Panel Chair, Respondent, and Roundtable Participant: Thinking Beyond the Canon: New Themes and Approaches to Jewish Studies, UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, March 8-9, 2015.
"Mapping Holocaust Memoirs: Technology, Ethics and Pedagogy, Center for Spatial Studies, University of Redlands, November 17, 2014.
"Impossible Holocaust Metaphors: The Muselmann," ARC, Americanist Research Colloquium, UCLA, October 16, 2014.
"Borrowed Time: Gambling, Chance, and Naturalist Fictions of Decline in The House of Mirth," SCAG, Southern California Americanist Group, The Huntington Library, October 3, 2014.
"A Cartography of Suffering?: Mapping Holocaust Testimony," American Comparative Literature Association, New York University, March 20-23, 2014.
"Mapping Holocaust Memoirs: Technology, Ethics and Pedagogy," ESRI Educational GIS Conference, San Diego, July 6-9, 2013.
Seminar Author, Co-Chair: "Mapping Oppression: Translating Literary and Geographical Sites of Terror"; Presenter: "Holocaust Memoirs: Reading, Writing, Mapping," ACLA, Toronto, Canada, April 4-7, 2013.
Panel Author, Organizer: "The Aesthetics of Time in American Literary Realism"; MLA, Los Angeles, CA, January 6-9, 2011.
Invited lecture: "Figuring the Muselmann: The Object Matter of Holocaust Representation," Aesthetics After the Holocaust, UCLA, February 7-8, 2010.
Panel Author, Organizer: "Religious Aesthetics in Nineteenth Century American Literature: A Comparative Approach"; Presenter: "A Figure Out of Time: The Noble Hebrew and Christian Typology in American Literature," MLA, Philadelphia, PA, December 27-30, 2009.
Panel Chair: "Race and Nation"; Presenter: "Lost in Translation: Strands of Jewishness in ‘The Pupil,'" International Conference of the Henry James Society Newport, RI, July 9-16, 2008.
Seminar Co-Chair: "Difficult Journeys: Texts That Challenge"; Presenter: "Why Teach Holocaust Texts?" ACLA, Long Beach, CA, April 26, 2008.
Panel Chair: "Beauty, Peace, War," Historical Formalism, or Aesthetics in American Literary History, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, May 18-19, 2007.
"‘The New Star of Realism': Immigrant Nostalgia and Messianic Time in Abraham Cahan's The Imported Bridegroom," MLA, Philadelphia, PA, December 27, 2006.
University of Redlands, Faculty Research Grant, 2016-18
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington, D.C., Research Workshop Fellowship, “Photography of Atrocity,” June 2017.
University of Redlands, Spatial Community of Practice Grant, 2015.
University of Redlands, Faculty Research Grant, 2014-15.
USHMM Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington, D.C., Fellowship, "Teaching the Holocaust Digitally: A Source Study Approach," 2014.
University of Redlands, LENS Faculty Development Grant, 2014.
University of Redlands, Faculty Research Grant, 2013.
University of Redlands, W. M. Keck Foundation LENS Faculty Fellowship in Spatial Learning, 2012.
University of Redlands, Nominated, Graves Award, 2011.
USHMM Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington, D. C., Jack and Anita Hess Seminar for Faculty, Jan. 3-7, 2011.
University of Redlands, Faculty Research Grant, 2007-08, 2009-10
University of California, Irvine, Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2003-04
UCLA, Alfred E. Longueil Dissertation Fellowship, 2002-03
UCLA, Chancellor's Dissertation Fellowship, 2001-02
UCLA, Philip and Ada Siff Educational Foundation Graduate Fellowship, (declined), 2002
UCLA, College of Letters and Science Charles E. and Sue K. Young Graduate Student of the Year Award, 2001.
Modern Language Association (MLA)
American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA)
Southern California Americanist Group (SCAG)
Henry James Society
Huntington Library, Manuscript Reader